The town is aiming high in their recruitment for a company to bring its headquarters to the the 100-acre site that was once ConAgra, a Slim Jim Plant that exploded in 2009.
High-tech, high-salaries, high-reward, high risk.
The ultimate prize would be to land a bio-pharmaceutical company but the town is keeping its options open, said Joseph Stallings, economic development director for the Town of Garner.
“We’re focusing on life science companies, but we’ve also pitched a site for a few other projects that aren’t bio-pharmaceutical related,” Stallings said. “The goal is to try to put that property back to its highest and best use, and try to put back what we lost.”
Stallings said the town is looking to raise the quality of life for all residents through business recruitment, retention and expansion and life science companies have been one part into helping increase the quality of life.
“We’re working it,” he said. “Economic development doesn’t happen overnight but we have a lot of people interested in it and it’s just about finding the right fit.”
If Garner is able to achieve its goal in recruitment at the former ConAgra Foods site on Jones Sausage Road, some say it could be the biggest thing to happen to the town in years, especially if they can land a biopharmaceutical company.
It would be bigger than Cabela’s, many say, which has sparked further interest from retailers and restaurants looking to get a piece of the action the outdoors mega store brings.
While the south side of Garner has boomed in the past year, with business and future housing growth, everything north of the train tracks hasn’t fared as well.
But Phil Matthews said that could change with a life science company.
“Bio-pharmaceutical company positions are high-tech and high-salary positions, which would be perfect for that area over there,” Matthews, former county commissioner and former Garner alderman, said. “With high positions in the six figures, they buy homes, rent apartments, shop locally which is good revenue for the community.”
He compares it to when Met Life came to settle into Cary. The company promised to bring in 1,200 jobs with average salaries of $125,000.
“You could imagine what something like that would do if it came into Garner,” Matthews said.
Aside from the biggest loss – the lives of four people – the town also lost about $50 million in tax base and hundreds of jobs when the plant closed down in 2010.
And although most of the people who worked at ConAgra lived outside of Garner, at one point the Slim Jim plant employed about 600 people.
“And we’re looking to put that back,” Stallings said.
Competition for big life science companies in recent years has increased. Recruiting them to come to Garner has been tough. The competition for these companies is global. For instance, cities like Tokyo, Japan and Bejing, China are looking for the same companies to increase their tax base.
The town would likely offer a company like that an incentives package to entice them to come to the area. The state could also do the same to help out.
Governor Pat McCrory has been a big proponent of incentives packages to lure big companies to the state, but the money allotted to the Job Development Investment Grant has run out. House Bill 117 would double money allotted to the grant, but the Senate hasn’t taken action on the bill in weeks.
That could backfire on Garner if it can’t match the incentive packages of its competitors.
“These companies sometimes play off against one another,” said Andy Taylor, a professor of political science at N.C. State. “They say ‘hey we’re looking at three different sites, and these guys have this,’ to try to get someone to offer more. That’s part of the game. The economic incentives game is a well-established game and there are people on the left and right who don’t like it.”